By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
When it comes to optimum health and fitness, age really is just a number. Did you know you can actually lower your chronological age, look younger and feel younger? We’re not talking about buying into the $260 billion global anti-aging product market or looking for Botox. We’re talking about the right exercises and physical activities.
Take a look at Ida Keeling, the 99-year-old who set a new world 100-meter sprint record for her age of 59.80 seconds at the Gay Games in 2014.
Or the oldest woman to run a marathon at 92 years old - San Diego 2015 in 7 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds?
These seniors are obviously younger than the number of candles on their birthday cake. How do you match up? What’s your fitness age, and how can you lower it?
How Aging Affects Your Body
We all age. It’s inevitable. And it shows on our body.
The big declines start to happen at age 30. After the age of 30, according to a Harvard Medical School report in 2005, the average man’s maximum heart rate drops by about one beat per minute every year.
Your blood vessels begin to stiffen and your blood pressure rises.
Your blood actually becomes stickier and it’s harder to push it through the arteries.
You gain weight – the average American puts on 3-4 pounds a year after midlife – and your muscle mass declines.
It sounds depressing. But this is only relevant if you give up and let Mother Nature – and Father Time – get the upper hand.
Dr. William Buchan, an 18th-century Scottish physician said, “Of all the causes which conspire to render the life of a man short and miserable, none have greater influence than the want of proper exercise.”
You can’t stop getting older but you can minimize the effect of time on your body – through exercise.
What’s Your Fitness Age Right Now?
By age 40, you should be able to do 20 to 29 push-ups if you are a man and 8 to 19 push-ups if you are a woman, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. How many push-ups can you do?
You should be able to run a mile in 10 minutes. If you can run a mile in 6:48 or faster you are in the top one percentile and if you can run in 9:45 you’re in the top 50 percent for your age, according to the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Guide standards.
Women at 40 should be able to do 19 to 22 sit-ups in a minute, and men 27 to 29, according to charts put together by sports scientist Rob Wood and Len Almond, a former adviser to the British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity & Health.
There are other ways to get your true fitness age.
Thanks to recent research into aerobic fitness assessment, you can now gauge your fitness age without having to get hooked up to machines in a lab.
In 2011 scientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway developed a low-tech way of estimating fitness and turned it into an online fitness calculator that “guesses” your fitness age after you input data including your weight, height, waist measurement and resting pulse. The results can be scary.
A 50-year-old man, for example, who walks a few times a week and has an average waist size of 36 inches plus a fairly average resting heart rate, has an average fitness age of 59.
Add in some extra detail and it gets even more revealing…
The Vitality Age Calculator developed by PruHealth in the UK also takes into account factors like alcohol consumption, happiness levels, and eating habits as well as exercise levels.
If a 30-year-old woman weighs a healthy 57 kg at 5'4" tall, exercises at intensity four times a week and drinks a unit of alcohol a day, she has a fitness age of 30.
But take away the exercise and add another 20 units of alcohol a week and her age rises to 35.
According to a survey attached to the use of the calculator, one in seven UK workers had lost seven years of life thanks to not exercising.
According to experts you can erase those unwanted fitness years – by exercising more frequently or more intensely.
Exercise Reverses the Aging Process: Fact
Countless studies show that exercising as you get older has a noticeable effect on your body, in a positive way. Some say you can even reverse the process of aging.
A 2007 study by Len Kravitz, Ph.D. revealed that older people taking part in resistance training actually changed the gene expression in the muscles and replenished lost muscle tissue after undertaking a six-month process of strength training.
In 1966 a famous study called the Dallas Bed Rest and Training Study, undertaken by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, looked at the effect of keeping five healthy 20-year-olds in bed for three weeks.
After the period of rest, the men all had faster resting heart rates, higher blood pressure, a lack of muscle strength, rise in body fat, and drop in their heart’s pump capacity – they had the characteristics of men twice their age.
But after an eight-week exercise program, all the men regained their fitness and actually ended up in better health than before.
Notice something important here --- it took a full eight weeks to reverse the damage that just three weeks of sedentary living did to the bodies of these 20-year old men. Imagine what years of sedentary living would do to their health.
Get 20-Year-Old Skin, with Exercise
If you need an extra motivation to get moving, scientists have discovered that regular exercise actually helps you look younger.
In 2014 researchers at McMaster University in Ontario found that exercise has an anti-aging effect.
The study started on mice, which began to look weak and sicklier when their exercise wheels were taken away.
The study then looked at 29 people between the ages of 20 and 84. Those who worked out at least three hours a week at moderate intensity had visibly younger looking skin than those who remained sedentary.
It’s Never too Late
Many studies show that you can drop years off your fitness age simply by exercising, no matter how old you are when you start.
Results from the English longitudinal study of ageing carried out by researchers at University College London in 2013 show that “sustained physical activity in older age is associated with improved overall health [and that] significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life.”
You gain life expectancy, you look and feel better, and you’re actually younger than the figures on your birth certificate. What are you waiting for? Get moving now!